U.S. plans smaller Iraq Army for 2004

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

NICOSIA The United States is expected to launch Iraq's new military in 2004.

Iraqi opposition sources working with the U.S. military said Washington will spend the next year preparing for the establishment of a new military and security regime in Iraq. They said the military has been deemed as a lower U.S. priority than the establishment of an interim government in Iraq.

The sources, in an assertion confirmed by a U.S. official, said the U.S. Defense Department wants to choose soldiers deemed as no longer having any loyalty to President Saddam Hussein. The sources said the selection and training of personnel would require at least a year.

U.S. officials said the Pentagon plans to begin recruitment of Iraqis for the new military by July. They said U.S. military authorities are preparing sites for the training of the military.

"We expect to begin recruiting members of the New Iraqi Corps before the end of this month," U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer told a news conference in Baghdad on Monday, according to Middle East Newsline.

On Monday, thousands of Iraqis dismissed from the military marched in Baghdad and threatened to attack U.S. troops unless they were paid their back wages as well as compensation. Last month, the United States dissolved the Iraqi Defense Ministry, military and several security agencies which numbered more than 400,000 people.

The Iraqi sources expect the new Iraqi military to be far smaller than that established by the Saddam regime. They said the military would be equipped by the United States and trained by Jordan.

Gen. Wafiq Al Samarai, the head of the Iraqi National Rescue Movement, told the London-based Al Hayat daily last month that the Iraqi military would be in full coordination with the United States. Al Samarai, who entered Iraq at an early stage of the war against Saddam, said he envisioned a long-term U.S. military presence, arranged via a defense pact between Baghdad and Washington.

"There are no longer any units or divisions of the Iraqi armed forces, not even at the level of small groups, for all the soldiers left their camps," Al Samarai said. "There is no more a Republican Guard or an army, and it was not within the American strategy to leave any Iraqi unity. The only remaining military units now are the Kurdish Peshmerga."

A report by the Washington-based Brookings Institution recommended an Iraqi military of at least 150,000 troops. Before the war against the United States, the Iraqi military numbered 400,000, "Iraq does not need this force anymore," Al Samarai said.

"Theoretically, many officers will be out of service and some of them will be back. As for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, they will also be integrated in the army. I expect that the Iraqi army armament will be from the West, probably."

Iraqi opposition sources said the U.S. military has been destroying Soviet-origin military platforms in the Iraqi army and air force. They said many of the tanks and aircraft were regarded as obsolete because of a shortage of fuel and spare parts.

For his part, Al Samarai said he expected tens of thousands of U.S. troops to maintain security along Iraq's borders. He said this would leave Iraq's military in a purely defensive role.

"I do not believe the Americans will leave the region in the short term," he said. "In fact, I do not think that a big and strong Iraqi army will be formed. The army will have a defensive aspect within Iraq's borders."

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